Significantly, the United States too had recently said it had no objection to the trilateral project involving India, Iran and Afghanistan.
New Delhi: Even as the pivotal Chabahar port in Iran will be inaugurated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday made a stopover at Tehran on her way back from Russia and met her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif to discuss further cooperation on the crucial port project. Significantly, the United States too had recently said it had no objection to the trilateral project involving India, Iran and Afghanistan.
India is looking at “operationalisation of the Chabahar port as an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity for Afghanistan” which will slash Afghan dependence on Pakistan for access to the sea.
It will ensure the sea-land connectivity initiative through Iran between New Delhi and Kabul. Pakistan has been an obstacle to the direct Indo-Afghan trade route that passes through Pakistani territory. The Chabahar port will also be a competitor — in handling maritime trade — to the Gwadar port in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province which has seen massive Chinese investment as part of the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
In a statement on Saturday evening, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said, “External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited Iran on December 2, 2017, on her return journey from the SCO Summit at Sochi (Russia) and met Javad Zarif, foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Foreign minister Javad Zarif hosted a luncheon meeting wherein both sides discussed the various aspects of India-Iran relations and ways to strengthen it. Both sides positively reviewed the initiatives undertaken since the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Iran in May 2016, including cooperation in Chabahar port which will be inaugurated Iran President Hassan Rouhani tomorrow (in the) presence of ministers from India, Afghanistan and the region. Both Ministers also exchanged views on regional and global developments of mutual interest.”
It may be recalled that about a month ago, in a major move that is part of the connectivity initiative to circumvent an obstinate Pakistan, Ms. Swaraj and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, through a joint video conference, had flagged off the first shipment of wheat from India to Afghanistan that would be shipped through the Chabahar port in Iran. The shipment was part of a commitment made by India to supply 1.1 million tonnes of wheat for the people of Afghanistan “on grant basis”. The move had come just days after the visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to New Delhi and after the United States said it had no objection to the Indo-Afghan-Iranian initiative to develop Chabahar.
In a statement on October 29 this year, India had said, “The shipment of wheat is a landmark moment as it will pave the way for operationalisation of the Chabahar port as an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity for Afghanistan. ... Last year in May, when our Leaders met in Tehran, they jointly took the decision to establish an International Transport and Transit corridor between India, Afghanistan and Iran. Today, as we jointly flag off the first shipment of wheat from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar Port, we are taking an important step in realising that shared aspiration to carve out the new routes of peace and prosperity.”
Ms. Swaraj had also thanked Iran then, saying, “At the same time, we are thankful to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for providing assistance in facilitating the movement of this gift through Chabahar Port. This shows the convergence between the ancient civilisations of India, Afghanistan and Iran to spur unhindered flow of commerce and trade throughout the region. The people of India, Afghanistan and Iran have been connected through centuries; shared commonalities of art and culture, ideas and knowledge; language and traditions.”